“His thought turned to the Ring, but there was no comfort there, only dread and danger.” – Me, thinking about breaking some bad news to my wife (from J.R.R. Tolkien, of course)
I have been a camper for as long as I can remember. I think the earliest photos of my parents taking me camping go back to when I was 4 or 5 years old, so that’s a good 40, 41 years of camping that I’ve done. Now, that’s a lot of camping, but truth be told, I’ve only really camped in the summer months. Well, with one exception. When I was about 12 or so, I did a 2-night camping trip with my Boy Scout troop, over Thanksgiving weekend. Thursday was all about eating and being with family, but early Friday morning, it was time to head out. We took the R train into Penn Station, transferred onto Metro North, and took that to some tiny little town, the name of which now escapes me due to it being some thirty-odd years ago. We then hiked a few (or what seemed to my preteen mind to be about 100) miles to our destination: a small gathering of lean-tos deep in the woods of upstate New York. Again, I cannot recall where exactly we were camping, but it was definitely in upstate New York, and it was remote. And we were far enough north for there to be a good amount of snow on the ground, even though there had not been any snow in New York City. I remember many things about the trip (except for where it was, apparently), but I don’t really remember being too cold. But I suppose that’s being a kid for you.
Fast forward to 2019, where my buddy Josh and I meet, and after some great camping trips to Silver Lake Wilderness in May, and Cedar River Flow in September, we both decide that we want our next trip to be a winter adventure. This time, Josh picked a fantastic spot deep in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness, a lean-to campsite right on John Pond. But Josh didn’t pick this site because of any Bigfoot sightings in the area. Rather, the 2.5 mile hike to our destination would take us past a grave site from the late 1800s, which we both thought would be perfect for ghost hunting. As always, Josh and I tend to take a more passive, laid-back approach in these situations. We are primarily out there to camp, enjoy being out in nature, and to have fun, but we always stay keenly aware of our senses. And honestly, when it comes to cemeteries, I don’t like to “actively” ghost hunt. I don’t ask questions, I definitely don’t provoke, and I generally just try to be as respectful as any other visitor, while having my equipment handy and running, just in case. And that’s exactly how we planned to approach this ghost hunt as well.
As always, Josh and I started our adventure with a trip to Walmart for food and any last-minute supplies (insert lazy joke about Walmart being a better place to find bizarre creatures than deep in the woods here). From there, it was almost a 2-hour drive to the trail head. After getting lost briefly due to a wrong turn, we finally found the trail head at about 1pm. Some snow shoe hikers coming back from their hike (and who were probably in their late 70s or early 80s, God bless ’em) pointed us in the right direction and told us the trail had mostly been traversed, which was great news for two guys each carrying a hefty backpack and pulling a heavy sled behind them. We loaded up and secured our sleds, enjoyed one last blast of heat from my car, put on our crampons, and began our long snowy journey to our destination.
“Winter wonderland” was the phrase that we both uttered at pretty much the same time as we entered the woods. Every tree branch was covered in snow, and every game trail had fresh prints – squirrels, rabbits, deer, everywhere we looked there were signs of woodland creatures. The woods were eerily and completely silent, partially due to the snow covering everything, and partially due to us being so remote. The wind was non-existent, a blessing for a winter hike. The trail was well marked and maintained, but dragging the sleds behind us was an interesting trade-off, to say the least. Less weight on our backs, but trying to take the turns, the inclines, and then going down some steep hills and trying to keep the sled from sweeping our legs out from under us was a constant concern. I didn’t realize until later, but I lost my crampons fairly early in our journey.
There were also a few creeks to cross. The first one, in a gorgeous meadow, had some wood planks across it, a convenience we truly appreciated, as it would also be the last convenience we encountered. The next three were further on up the trail, and we were fairly exhausted by the time we reached them. The trail had some pretty good inclines, and we had to stop a few times to catch our breath and cool down. Lots of twists and turns forced us to constantly manage our sleds, and mine seemed particularly top-heavy and was quite prone to tipping over. So crossing the subsequent streams was particularly difficult, with each of us having to jump across, and then yank our sleds fast enough so that they “jumped” the gap. Josh seemed to be a natural at this. Me, not so much. Unfortunately, after proudly sticking the landing on one particularly tricky jump, I foolishly took a step backwards, and my foot plunged right into the icy water. The waterproof boots did their job, but my foot went in just deep enough for the water to spill in from the top of the boot. So the water was making its way down my sock to my toes. Good job, Jay.
After about an hour and 45 minutes of hiking, we reached the cemetery signpost, a sure sign that our camp wasn’t too much further. The cemetery itself was up on a hill to our left, but we were too tired to attempt to go and find it at that particular moment. We knew our destination wasn’t much further, so we carried on. About 20 minutes later, Joshed yelled out “There it is!” We rounded a bend, the completely frozen-over John Pond opening up to our left, and the lean-to on our right. Home for the next 3 days.
It had taken us a little over 2 hours to reach camp, and it was a little past 4pm when we first sat down and surveyed our surroundings. My foot was quickly numbing from being wet and cold, but Josh had some activating heating pads his mom had given to him for the trip, so I changed my socks, tucked one in my spare (dry) boots, and we got to work unpacking and collecting firewood for dinner. We quickly surveyed the frozen pond, but were too sore and hungry for much else. We built a small fire, ate some delicious chili dogs, and then got into our sleeping bags. We were just too cold, and too tired, to do much else, even though it was just barely past 6pm. And though darkness had fallen, sleep eluded us. We stayed up for hours talking, listening to the creatures in the woods frolicking around our lean-to, until we finally fell asleep a little past 10. We woke up in the middle of the night, cold, uncomfortable, but talking politics and life issues, and listening to more animals run around the camp. Most were probably rabbits, but one sounded like it was most likely a coyote, with it’s trademark canine footfalls.
We awoke the next morning feeling refreshed, despite the interrupted sleep. Josh made his signature campfire fajitas, and we prepared to head off to the cemetery for some ghost hunting. The trail leading to the cemetery was only about 15 minutes from camp, and it was a perfect day for a walk – chilly, but the air remained still. As we approached the trail head, we were heating up, so we took off our hats and gloves, and that’s when I noticed my wedding ring was gone. At first I thought it must have come off when I removed my gloves, but my ring is a pretty snug fit, and even when I want to take it off, it can be a challenge. Loose-fitting winter gloves couldn’t have done it. Regardless, Josh and I searched the trail, but to no avail. Thinking I may have left it back near my bedroll at camp, we continued up to the cemetery to investigate. It wasn’t far from the main trail, and it was easy to find. The cemetery was small, just two wooden cross markers for two children who had died of black diphtheria in 1897 – half-siblings Peter Savarie and Eliza King. Peter was 11 when he died, and Eliza was 14, residents of a small, long-gone logging town called Little Canada. The graves were well-kept, and surrounded by a fence. Josh took some video while I monitored the EMF meter. Again, this was a more passive investigation, so we did not ask questions. But I also got no readings. Comforting, perhaps, to know that it was peaceful and quiet there where the two children were laid to rest. Content with our findings, and realizing we needed to collect firewood for the evening, Josh and I headed back to camp.
We searched the lean-to for my ring, but it wasn’t there. I tried to recall the last time I remembered seeing it on my hand, yet I couldn’t. Too much had transpired over the past few days. I left work a little early on Thursday in a rush, trying to get home in time to pack up my car and get on the road to stay at my AirBnB, a halfway point between me and where Josh lives. So I figured I could have left it at the AirBnB, or I could have left it at work in my rush to get home. I could have even left it at home. But I had to let it go for now. And I had to tell my wife. But we were too deep in the woods, with no cell service. It would have to wait.
We actually met a number of other hikers that day, all couples. One pair was cross-country skiing and passed us on the trail on our way back from the cemetery. Another couple had actually found my lost crampons, and told us they found them right at the trail head (way to be a hiker, Jay), and were nice enough to carry them along to see if they found the owner. Another couple stopped by to chat with us about the lean-to, and then they had lunch down by the pond. Everyone was very nice, and the last two couples had dogs with them, so it was fun to exchange stories with other people enjoying the wilderness, and get in some playing with the dogs. At around 4pm, another hiker came through, and as he approached, Josh realized he knew him – his friend and frequent camping companion Pete! Josh had invited Pete to come along with us on this trip, but Pete had been sick so he initially declined. But he was feeling better, and took the chance to try to come find us. We all settled in to chop up the firewood that Josh and I had gathered earlier in the day, and as it got dark, we had some beers, built up a large campfire, and cooked up some amazing dinner.
As the night went on, I went off in the dark alone to explore a little. The ghost hunting Bigfoot enthusiast in me couldn’t resist. I had seen some eyeshine down near the pond, but it was low to the ground, probably a raccoon. But it was nice to be out in the snowy woods, in the dark, alone. It was very spooky, but peacefully quiet. It was too cloudy and overcast to see any stars, but I love being so deep in the woods, so far from civilization. Always a humbling experience, and one I truly miss now during this time of social distancing.
Back at camp, Josh, Pete, and I had a few more beers, a few more laughs, and then decided to call it a night. Josh and I slept much better that night. It was still very cold, and it was hard to get too comfortable in my zero-degree mummy sleeping bag, but it was a much more restful night. Pete, being the hardcore camping beast he is, slept outside in a hammock, with a tarp overhead for shelter. It must have been much more comfortable than the hard wooden floor of our lean-to, though, as he was still sleeping as Josh and I got up to start packing our sleds. The hike out was nice – it was a sunny day, the first sunshine we’d seen on the whole trip, and again, no wind. We were better acquainted with the pitfalls of the trail ahead, and we both made it back to the car with dry feet. We had laid down some logs as a makeshift bridge over the stream closest to the cemetery the day before, and it was pretty helpful on our way out. Leaving is always bittersweet for us. We were tired, cold, but the Adirondacks, are always on our minds, and even on our way out, we were discussing our next possible trip.
Once we were back to my car, it was an almost 2-hour drive back to Josh’s car in Amsterdam, NY. Josh threw his gear in his car, and we said our goodbyes, never a fun thing, but both of us were eager to get back to our families. Once Josh left, I stopped for gas and called my wife. She wasn’t as upset as I feared, and she also thought perhaps I left it at work. Three hours later, I was home and showered, and I sat down to show her some videos of the trip. And there it was on my phone screen, my ring, as I ate around the campfire that first morning. I texted Josh, and he started going through his videos as well, and via his detective work, we pinpointed the approximate time and place I lost the ring – around the campfire at breakfast. It was there before we ate, but gone right as we began our trip to the cemetery. Now we knew it wasn’t a needle in a haystack, a small, dark gray ring lost in the middle of the Adirondacks somewhere along the trail. It was right there in camp. My wife looked at me and said, “We are going back for it.”
And we did go back to look for it. But that story is coming in Part 2.
For now, enjoy the video summary of our trip (and more great stuff over at Diaz Wilderness Adventures)!